I first read this book shortly after it came out in 1981, and I loved it. I've never forgotten it, have loaned my copy out, and replaced it, at least 4 times. I recently bought the New Edition, which contains additional information, and am so glad I did.
In rereading the book, I realized I had remembered certain scenes accurately – and some that didn't exist at all ;-).
Lalu Nathoy/Polly Bemis was a real woman who was sold by her father to bandits, smuggled into the US and, as the slave she was, found her way from San Francisco to Portland to Warrens, Idaho where her owner used her in his saloon as a 'bar girl' and where she became known as Polly.
Little is known of her life in China, and McCunn does a marvelous job of conveying the 'what might have happened.' Girls had little to no value in China, except to marry into a higher level of society if at all possible, thereby bringing some monetary relief to her family. To this end, many first born girls of even peasant families, had their feet bound. Lalu's feet were bound, and then unbound when she was needed to work in the fields to help her father. Although her feet never returned to 'normal' she was able to walk long distances and do field work on them.
Bandits came to her village, and she was stolen. The leader gave her father two bags of seed, thereby changing it from a theft to a sale. Lalu began her journey to probably Shanghai where she was smuggled aboard a ship bound to San Francisco. From there, she went north until eventually reaching Warrens, Idaho, as the slave of Hong King. There is a myth about gaining her freedom, the truth as we know it is that no one knows how she ended up free. We do know she married her benefactor, Charlie Bemis, and lived many years in the Salmon River area.
I think McCunn did a tremendous job showing the cultures of China and pioneer Idaho in this book. Yes, there were areas I would have liked to see expanded, and undoubtedly as you read it, there will be areas you wish were in more depth, but over all, this is a fascinating, and accessible story. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in our history, or the history of the Chinese in our country. Although it is an adult book, it is suitable for those in Junior High School.
It's a good read, and you're bound to learn something!